The Real Mountains of Avatar

Having once lived in China for 11 years, I still travel there frequently. This post is from my recent trip to China and its southern provinces in May 2012. View more stories and photos from that trip and other China trips here.

My grandfather lives in the capital city of China’s Hunnan Province. For years, he has been pestering me to visit the province’s national park – ZhangJiaJie National Forest Park. The park has a special significance for him. A structural engineer by trade, my grandfather was responsible for the construction of many water dams in China, including the one in ZhangJiaJie. In fact, he tells me that my aunt spent a few months living in the park with him during the construction of the dam there.

On my recent trip back to Hunnan China last month, I finally made the trip to ZhangJiaJie National Forest Park. The Park has reached new fame since the 2009 movie Avatar. The movie was filmed in these mountains, more specifically, the Hallelujah Mountain (of Avatar) was filmed there and the movie’s editing team simply edited the mountains in post-production to make them look like they are floating in the air. 

The 3 days I spent within the park was my favourite part of the entire month I spent in China. Having lived in Beijing for a decade, the China I’m used to is covered in dust and smog, hiding all signs of nature and greenery. But I was blown away by ZhangJiaJie’s natural beauty and the picturesque scenery – there is truly no place like ZhangJiaJie, anywhere in the world. Beyond the mountains, the area is also home to a beautiful lake (which flows into the dam) and an underground cave. And if the natural beauty wasn’t enough, the region is also home to an ethnic Chinese tribe with unique cultural traditions. For example, the brides from this tribe has to cry for at least 3 days prior to her wedding. In fact, it is believed that the longer she can cry, the more desirable of a wife she is.

I loved ZhangJiaJie for its scenic beauty and cultural richness. I also felt connected to the park in many ways. The fresh mountain air reminded me of my school days in Vancouver when I would walk to school in the brisk morning air. At the dam by the park’s entrance, I also felt particularly close to my family, to my grandfather and the work he had done there. For the first time in a long time, I felt deeply emotionally connected to a place.

I could not have hoped for a better trip than the one I had to ZhangJiaJie National Forest. The trip reminded me of one of the treasures of traveling. Sometimes a journey can bring me to places miles away from home, to the rural communities of Cuba, to the birthplace of mankind, and to the hidden corners of the earth. But sometimes traveling also bring me full circle – all the way back home.


12 responses to “The Real Mountains of Avatar

  1. Pingback: The Real Mountains of Avatar | Home Far Away From Home·

  2. Beautiful! I’ve been wanting to go Zhangjiajie ever since I got here last year. I’m thinking about trying to get there for this October National Day holiday. I just hate to fly during holidays since they jack up the prices so much. Hmm….We’ll see. It certainly looks worth it. I’m glad you got to go!

  3. Pingback: 2012: The Year I Photographed the World | Just-In-Time Travels·

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